The Commission on Human Rights should strengthen its monitoring of the abduction and military recruitment of children in armed conflict, and request the personal intervention of the Secretary-General in particularly egregious situations.
In 2003, the Commission on Human Rights adopted for the first time a resolution on the abduction of children in Africa. Abduction of children as soldiers, laborers and sexual slaves has become an increasingly common characteristic of armed conflict.
Since then, child abductions in conflict situations have continued at alarming rates, and in some cases, have escalated. One of the most egregious examples is in Northern Uganda, where the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has abducted an estimated 10,000 children since mid-2002. The rate of abductions over the last two years has been the highest of the Northern Ugandan conflict’s 18-year history.
Human Rights Watch documented the abduction of children in Northern Uganda in two separate reports in 2003. Children abducted by the LRA are forced to fight against the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces UPDF), raid villages for food, slaughter civilians, and abduct other children. Girls as young as twelve are given to rebel commanders as “wives.” Children who refuse to follow orders or try to escape are killed, typically by other children who are forced to beat or hack the victim or be killed themselves.
Escalating rates of abduction and lack of security have forced many children to leave their homes at night to seek safety in urban areas. In late 2003, figures for Gulu municipality indicated that over 16,000 of these “night commuters” walk up to ten kilometers each night to sleep on verandas, in bus parks, at hospitals or in temporary shelters in Gulu before returning home the next morning.
In the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, children are abducted and used as soldiers by many of the parties to the conflict. The forced recruitment of children increased so dramatically in late 2002 and early 2003 that observers described the fighting forces as “armies of children.” Combatants also abducted girls and took them to their bases where they forced them to provide sexual services and domestic labor, sometimes for periods of more than a year. While some progress has been made in demobilizing child soldiers from the various warring factions, in Ituri, the abduction and recruitment continues.
In Liberia in early 2003, rebel LURD forces pressed hundreds of children into service during their advance on the capital Monrovia. Around the same time, government militias and paramilitaries operating in and around the capital also conducted roundups of children at schools, displaced camps, and from the streets, creating units that were composed primarily of child soldiers. Girls were used as fighters by all three warring factions and many were sexually assaulted. In Africa, Human Rights Watch has also documented the abduction of children for use as soldiers in Burundi, Ivory Coast and Sudan.
As part of its resolution on the abduction of children in Africa and other relevant resolutions, the Commission on Human Rights should:
- Condemn all abduction of children for any purpose, including use as soldiers, laborers or for sexual services;
- Call upon states to take all appropriate measures to protect children from abduction, including providing adequate security for particularly vulnerable populations;
- Request the Secretary-General to use his good offices to intervene personally or through an intermediary of his choosing in the most egregious situations of child abduction, with the aim of securing the release into safety of abducted children and seeking an end to future abductions.
- Request the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNICEF, OCHA and other relevant UN agencies to strengthen monitoring and reporting on child abduction by ensuring child rights monitors are deployed in areas where child abduction is widespread.
- Call upon the donor community to support the deployment of international child rights monitors in areas where child abduction is widespread.
- Call upon member states to end any financial or military assistance to parties to armed conflict that abduct children and use their influence to pressure any such groups to immediately cease all abduction of children.
- Call upon all member states to end impunity and take appropriate steps to identify those most responsible for child abduction and bring them to justice through appropriate mechanisms.
- Urge all states to ratify and fully implement the African Charter for the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and establish an age of at least eighteen as the minimum age for any voluntary recruitment.